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Christmas is Not Pagan - Part III

By Dr. Richard P. Bucher

The Arguments Put Forth By Those Who Oppose Christmas

Argument 2: The first Christians never observed the celebration of Christ's birth until emperor Constantine in 313 AD officially tolerated Christians.

The real argument here is that when the church was "pure" during the first three hundred years, Christmas was never celebrated. Only when the church became corrupt, during and after the time of Constantine, did the Roman Church adopt Christianity based on pagan ideas. In this scheme, Constantine is depicted as someone that willingly mixed Christianity with paganism.

As an example of this we read in "Is Christmas Christian?"

    There is no indication in the New Testament that the early Christians observed Christmas at all. It can be demonstrated in church history that, for probably the first 300 years after the birth of Christ, Christians knew nothing of Christmas celebration. It was only as the Church began to drift from apostolic doctrine and practice into corruption that Christmas began.

    In 313 A.D. the Roman Emperor Constantine supposedly adopted the Christian faith and declared it to be the official religion of his realm. His embracing the Christian Church proved detrimental to true Christianity. Constantine retained the traditional pagan titles, and his coins still bore the figures and names of the old Roman gods.

    The Church became "the Roman Catholic Church" and its method became compromise with paganism.

And "Tis the Season for Pagan Worship" chimes in:

    The fact of the matter is this--the early church did not celebrate Christ's birth, but such celebration only came into the church with the "Christianization" of pagan rites as Catholicism was made the state religion by Constantine in the fourth century A.D.

First, it shows a total ignorance of early Church history to imagine that after the apostles there was a time that the church was "pure." One only has to read the church fathers and other church documents to discover that in many places the Church began to drift from apostolic doctrine and practice almost from the beginning. As early as the late First Century, there arose legalistic and rigorist mindset in the church that seemed to almost forget the Biblical teaching of grace. Scattered throughout the empire were churches calling themselves Christian which were in fact gnostics, who used both the Scriptures and their own sacred literature side by side. From the time of the apostles there were countless false teachers and teachings that invaded the church, and in many cases leading entire regions astray. The followers of the false teacher, Marcion (85-160), for example, filled the Roman empire with hundreds of congregations by the end of the Second Century. There certainly was an orthodox Church, but it was anything but pure, in the sense of, "without any error." These early Christians were beset with as many temptations and errant philosophies from the world as Christians today are.

Second, the implication that Constantine was a "pagan" emperor in disguise, because he "retained the traditional pagan titles, and his coins still bore the figures and names of the old Roman gods." needs clarification and correction. There is a distinct difference between the Constantine from 312-323 and the Constantine from 324 and after. In 312 he became the emperor of the western part of the empire, while Licinius became emperor of the east. About this period of 312-323, the noted W. H. C. Frend observed:

    And what of Constantine during these years? The evidence points to a consistent if stormy progress toward accepting the Christian God as the one to whom exclusive service must be given . . . However, until his preparations for his final campaign by 323, he did not abandon his allegiance to the Sun god, even though he regarded himself as a servant of the Christian God . . . For twelve years the two allegiances were held in uneasy tension until the "God of Battles" claimed his own . . . The liberation of Rome was attributed to the Sun on a Medallion struck at the time. Soli Invicto Comiti continued to dominate the coinage. While other Western issues show the Sun's orb resting on an altar. The protection of the gods of the empire did not disappear from the coins until after c. 319. (W. H. C. Frend, The Rise of Christianity, Fortress Press, 1985, 484).

After 324 all this changed. In 324 Constantine defeated Licinius at the Battle of Chrysopolis, and he became sole ruler of the Roman empire. Now his ardor for Christianity new no bounds. In fact, so disgusted was he by the paganism of Rome, that he moved the capital of the empire to Byzantium, finishing it in 330, and renaming it Constantinople. He forbade pagan sacrifices and he decreed that there were to be no idolatrous worship and no pagan festivals of any kind.

Thus, there is no evidence that the "pagan" Constantine was somehow responsible for combining the celebration of Christ's birth with paganism by moving it to Dec. 25. If anything, the evidence shows a Constantine who became so committed to the Christian faith that he was steadily moving toward disallowing all paganism.

It is also an anachronism that during the time of Constantine, that the "Church became the Roman Catholic Church," or that "Catholicism was made the state religion by Constantine in the 4th Century." Actually it was Theodosius I who decreed that Christianity was the official religion of the empire in 379. There was no "Roman Catholic Church" in the Fourth Century. That name only came into existence after the Sixteenth Century Reformation. It is true that Theodosius made "Catholicism" the state religion, if by "Catholicism" one means true Christians over against heretics. The see of Rome was highly honored, but held no special position of superiority at that time.

Thirdly, while it is true that Christmas (the birth of Christ) was not listed as one of the chief Christian festivals in the first two centuries of the Church's existence, it is not exactly true that the first Christians never observed the birth of Christ until the time of Constantine. Actually there is evidence of the feast being celebrated in Egypt prior to 200 A.D. The Church father Clement of Alexandria tells us that certain theologians had claimed to have determined not only the year of the Lord's birth but also the day; that it took place in the 28th year of Augustus and on the 25th day of Pachon (May 20) (Stromata, I, 21). He also added that others said that he was born on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi (April 19 or 20). Another piece of evidence is De Paschae Computus of 243, which states that Christ was born on March 28, because, it says, this was the day that the sun was created. Clement also tells us that other Christians were in the custom of celebrating the Baptism of Christ (his Epiphany) on the 15th day of Tubi and others on the 11th of the same month (Jan. 10 or 6). This is significant because it became customary in many places for Christians to celebrate both Christ's epiphany and his birth at the same – a practice of the Armenian Church to this day.

 

Table of Contents

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The Introduction (Part I)

"Christmas is Obviously Pagan Because:

There is No Biblical Command or Precedent for It (Part II)

Christians Did Not Celebrate Christ's Birth Until the Time of Constantine (313 AD) (Part III)

The Date of Christmas and its Many Customs Come from Paganism" (Part IV)